ALI, Leonard, Tyson, De La Hoya and Mayweather. Boxing’s biggest star has always been an American, but, circa 2017, that might no longer be the case. Mexico’s Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and Britain’s Anthony Joshua are vying for the mantle Floyd Mayweather left behind. Don’t sleep on the US, though. America’s got talent, but who will captain this new order? Who will be America’s next top boxer? Whoever he is, he’ll almost assuredly emerge from this list below:
THE FRONT RUNNERS
Keith “One Time” Thurman (Age: 28) / WBC, WBA World Welterweight Champion / 28-0, (22)
Thurman’s “One Time” moniker is a little hyperbolic. Perhaps “Once Upon a Time” would be more fitting. Still, his style is usually fan-friendly. And with his ponytail, idiosyncratic speech and ill-fitting suits, he’s got the WWE heel role down. Thurman has enough talent around him at 147lbs to propel him toward rare air, particularly if he impressively defeats Errol Spence Jr. That means avoiding the injuries and inactivity that is beginning to plague his career.
Errol “The Truth” Spence, Jr. (Age: 27) / IBF World Welterweight Champion / 22-0 (19)
There’s something Leonard-esque about Spence. Like “Sugar Ray”, the Texas native is amiable outside the ring and carries a mean streak into it. None other than Mayweather himself has appointed Spence as the next king of the welterweights. King of boxing too? We’ll soon find out.
Gervonta “Tank” Davis (Age: 22) / IBF World Super Featherweight Champion / 18-0 (17)
“Tank” oozes superstar potential. The entire combat sporting world will get a firsthand look at that potential when he’s co-featured on the Mayweather-McGregor card. Davis’ neck-tats and mid-Atlantic state drawl could transform him into boxing’s version of Allen Iverson, bringing a new generation of fans to the sport.
Deontay “The Bronze Bomber” Wilder (Age: 31) / WBC World Heavyweight Champion / 38-0 (37)
Personality plus power usually equals popularity. Wilder’s star power is increasing, evidenced by the 2.5 million-plus that watched each of his last two bouts. What’s missing is a signature performance—and opponent. The Stiverne win feels like eons ago and subsequent opponents were forgettable. But if Wilder can secure a showdown with Joshua, he’ll need only one right cross to make everybody shout, “Bomb Squad!”
Andre “S.O.G.” Ward (Age: 33) / WBA, IBF, WBO Light Heavyweight Champion / 31-0 (15)
He’s too old, he’s too P.C. and he’s not exciting. He also thrives on your doubt and he was 14. What if Ward moves up and defeats a Tony Bellew? What if that set up a match versus Anthony Joshua? I know, I know. McGregor’s got a better chance of outboxing Floyd. But hey, stranger things have happened (well, maybe not).
IN THE MIX
Joe Smith Jr. (Age: 27) / Light Heavyweight Contender / 23-1 (19)
Smith upset the odds versus Andrzej Fonfara and Bernard Hopkins, but the sturdy Sullivan Barrera could be his toughest opponent when they square off July 15. Another highlight-reel KO win sets Smith up for a title shot. That, coupled with his working-class background, should make him an easy sell to the general public.
Terence “Bud” Crawford (Age: 29) / WBC & WBO World Super Lightweight Champion / 31-0 (22)
Larry Merchant says Crawford and Ward will never be superstars, but he once said the same of Mayweather. Crawford is like an aggressive Pernell Whitaker. His surly attitude could translate well paired against the right opponent, like how Marvin Hagler’s served as a good foil.
Mikey Garcia (Age: 29) / WBC World Lightweight Champion / 36-0 (30)
Garcia’s record and technical prowess screams “star” but his clean-cut image hasn’t captured the public’s imagination. The July 29 battle versus Adrien Broner is the perfect opportunity to separate himself from the pack. Many perceive Broner as a villain, or at least a knucklehead. Those same people would love to see him get his comeuppance (again), and will tune in hoping good-guy Garcia can administer that via KO.
The Charlo Twins (Age: 27)
Jermall Charlo / Middleweight Contender / 25-0 (19)
Jermell Charlo / WBC World Super Welterweight Champion / 29-0 (14)
Jermall has a leg up on younger twin Jermell. The former 154lbs champion is poised to make a Hamed-like entrance at 160, where Canelo, Golovkin and Danny Jacobs reside. As for WBC 154lbs champion Jermell, if he can thread through that talent-rich division, and face a Spence or Thurman moving up, he’s got as good a chance as his brother to become the game’s top dog—not that you’ll have an easier time telling them apart.
Adrien “The Problem” Broner (Age: 27) / Super Lightweight Contender / 33-2 (24)
Broner is as much “The Problem” for himself as he is for opponents. Nevertheless, some insiders believe he possesses the tools needed to be a dominant champion. Plus, his personality and TMZ go together like biscuits and gravy. What’s missing is the discipline that made “Big Bro” Mayweather his generation’s finest. Still, Broner is only 27. The Mikey Garcia bout could be the start of a new chapter—or the end of a tragicomedy.
Erickson Lubin (Age: 21) / Junior Middleweight Contender / 18-0 (13)
Lubin is closing in on a title shot at 154, but he’s got a lot of competition before becoming the man in that division, let alone in boxing.
Regis Prograis (Age: 28) / Junior Welterweight Contender / 20-0 (17)
Prograis turned heads with TKO of Joel Diaz in June. A title shot could occur later this year. He’s doing his part outside of the ring as well, hiring a team to put up billboards in his hometown of New Orleans, Louisiana, with his face and the phrase, “Who got next?” Maybe Prograis does.
David Benavidez (Age: 20) / Super Middleweight Contender / 18-0 (17)
Benavidez will likely face Anthony Dirrell for the WBC title later this year. If he can produce another cartoon-like KO combination, like the one that fried “Porky” Medina, he’ll gain the support of the sport’s large Mexican-American base.
Robert Easter Jr. (Age: 26) / IBF World Super Lightweight Champion / 20-0 (14)
IBF 135lb. champion Easter is a hot ticket in Toledo, Ohio and been matched tough so far. If he continues to win, his Hearns-like frame should allow him to easily go up to welter. His star power could follow suit.
Jarrett Hurd (Age: 26) / IBF World Super Welterweight Champion (20-0 (14)
Like Lubin, Hurd must first survive the 154lb. gauntlet. Whoever does that is in great position to become America’s fistic head honcho.
From Ward to Hurd, the possibilities are endless. Who will it be?